Is it a coincidence that the militancy-mauled Northeast has had a large number of retired police, intelligence, army and paramilitary officers as governors?
The first among them was general SM Shrinagesh, who took charge of undivided Assam in two phases, the first of which began in 1959. The separatism-troubled Naga Hills were then part of Assam.
And now, former Delhi police commissioner KK Paul has replaced former BSF and National Security Guard chief Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary in Meghalaya. Mooshahary, though, was seen as people-friendly. So was general JJ Singh, who handed over the gubernatorial baton in Arunachal Pradesh to lieutenant general Nirbhay Sharma earlier this year. But few missed the design, not necessarily of the governors themselves, behind the people-friendliness.
By the 1980s, it almost became a fashion to appoint a ‘khaki governor’ or a ‘snoopy governor’ in the seven states (Sikkim was not a member of the club then) comprising the Northeast. And it wasn’t just an overlapping of events that the region — Nagaland, Manipur and Assam followed by Tripura — had stepped into its most violent phase.
Though a governor’s job is perceived to be titular or ornamental, the region, used to New Delhi’s agenda of ‘mainstreaming the misguided’, began doubting their appointments. This is more so, as governors have special powers to intervene in the law and order of Sixth Schedule areas such as Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts of Assam.
General KV Krishna Rao adorned the Raj Bhavans of Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura simultaneously between June 1984 and July 1989. Things reached a climax in 2000, when each state of the entire northeast — barring Sikkim — had a governor with either a police or military or intelligence background. If Arunachal Pradesh had former Research and Analysis Wing chief Arvind Dave, Assam and Tripura had retired lieutenant generals SK Sinha and KM Seth. Nagaland and Manipur had former Delhi police commissioner Ved Prakash Marwah (with additional charge of Mizoram) and retired IPS officer Om Prakash Sharma while Meghalaya’s MM Jacob had been a minister of state for home affairs.
But does the Northeast, where major extremist groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland are in ceasefire mode, still merit generals or top cops as governors?
“That they are still being appointed is an illustration of the security paranoia of the Centre over the region, and a display of distrust of local governments and ethnic communities,” said Imphal-based rights activist Babloo Loitongbam.
Shillong-based social activist Agnes Kharshiing said: “We have a general replacing another in Arunachal Pradesh, apparently with China in mind, and Ashwani Kumar, former CBI director, replacing former Delhi police commissioner Nikhil Kumar in Nagaland to keep tabs on the activities of Naga rebels,” adding that the governors were basically fulfilling the agendas of their political masters.
Others point out how during the NDA regime, Assam governor lieutenant general SK Sinha’s document titled ‘Illegal Migration into Assam’ supposedly created a ‘Bangladeshi phobia’.
According to Sanjib Baruah, author and professor at Bard College, US, it is time for New Delhi to reassess its four-decade containment policy, which has produced an equilibrium, with democracy coexisting with authoritarian modes of governance with disturbing ease.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, responding in 1949 to reports that Manipur might be reluctant to merge fully with the Indian Union, said: “Isn’t there a brigadier in Shillong?” The unwritten gubernatorial policy for the Northeast is seen as an extension of that attitude.
The least New Delhi can do, conflict watchers say, is stop sending the wrong signal through the Raj Bhavan.